Still, having three very good starting pitchers isn't a bad idea.
If Hamels truly belongs in this conversation and deserves an equilateral side to the triangle, then the Phillies are entering the postseason with a one-two-three punch that has been rarely, if ever, delivered in the post-free-agent era.
That is still the only debatable part of the equation. Hamels is 22-22 in the last two regular seasons. He pitched to a 1.80 earned run average in the 2008 postseason, and a 7.58 ERA in the 2009 postseason. These playoffs and the seasons still to come in his young career with either cement or jackhammer his place in the game, but, either way, he's not yet in the same conversation with Halladay and Oswalt and their five combined 20-win seasons.
Nevertheless, the potential is there, and few teams have boasted this good a trio. Since free agency, when keeping a deep stable of talent together became almost impossible, there have been just a few staffs that offer some comparison.
The 1985 St. Louis Cardinals would be one of them, featuring John Tudor (21-8), Joaquin Andujar (21-12), and Danny Cox (18-9). The Cards went to the seventh game of the World Series before losing to the Kansas City Royals. Depending on how you feel about Don Denkinger, the Cards actually won the Series in six games.
The 1990 Oakland Athletics won 103 games and swept the American League Championship Series before being swept in the World Series by the Reds. Their Big Three went like this: Bob Welch (27-6), Dave Stewart (22-11), and Scott Sanderson (17-11).
Those might be the best, strongest, single-season examples of the last 25 years, but you have to make room for some of the Atlanta teams during the Braves' run of 14 straight postseason appearances. In some combination, they always had at least three of the following: Steve Avery, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Kevin Millwood. (Calm down. He stank here, but he was a combined 35-15 in 1998 and 1999.) That group has totaled 1,128 career regular-season wins, but when they were taking turns with the Braves, all that excellence led to only one championship in five World Series appearances.
The team the Braves beat in the World Series could also make a brief argument for inclusion in the Big Three carnival. The 1995 Cleveland Indians, a 100-win team, had a starting rotation that included Orel Hershiser (16-6), Charles Nagy (16-6), and Denny Martinez (12-5). They were very good, but under a hitting coach named Charlie Manuel, (and with a bench player named Ruben Amaro Jr. going hitless in two Series at-bats), the Indians batted just .179 against the Braves.
The lesson is that it takes more than good pitching. It takes some luck - even with three horses in the stable. In baseball history since 1900, 24 teams have had three 20-game winners on their staffs, and only five of those won the World Series.
In the modern era, the greatest and deepest staff was probably that of the Oakland A's in the early 1970s. The 1973 team was the last one to have three 20-game winners in the same rotation: Catfish Hunter (21-5), Ken Holtzman (21-11), and Vida Blue (20-9). That was the middle year of three straight championships, and the A's mini-dynasty also heralded the last gasp of the real pitcher's era in baseball. The mound had been lowered, the spitball rule tightened, the strike zone had been shrunk, and the designated hitter had become part of the American League. Once free agency became possible, that was the virtual end of the dominating staffs.
The Phillies are trying to rekindle the past with Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels, and maybe they will do just that. It wouldn't be surprising. They have the possibility of being that good. But baseball likes to produce its own surprises, and predicting them is a foolish errand. We'll just have to watch The Three pitch and let the games decide if they are Small, Medium or Big.
Contact columnist Bob Ford at 215-854-5842 or email@example.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/bobford.